January 18, 2017

No Retirement: 71-Year-Old Lawyer Leaving Weil, Wants More Trials

James Quinn, who spent more than 40 years at Weil Gotshal & Manges, trying some of its biggest cases, serving on its executive committee and acting as the head of its litigation department, announced on Tuesday he is leaving to join a small Houston-based plaintiff’s firm.

Quinn, 71, will remain in New York but work as an of counsel at Berg & Androphy, the firm started by his old friend, David Berg, who is 74.

Earlier in his career, Quinn said he helped create a mandatory retirement age of 68 at Weil Gotshal as a way to ensure a younger generation of lawyers could rise up. Even though the firm waived its retirement policy for him several years ago, Quinn said law firms should “rethink” such rules, or at least apply them “judiciously” for lawyers that aren’t ready to leave.

Both he and Berg said retiring is out of the question for them, and that their goal is to try at least a couple cases every year.

“Look at David Boies, the Energizer Bunny,” said Quinn, “Boies is like 76 and Ted Olson is around my age — sure you can keep going!”

(A quick search on the Internet suggests Boies is 75 and Olson is 76.)

Berg was more adamant about continuing to work and threatened to slap anyone who tells him he has reached retirement age. “I have no intention of retiring, ever,” he said.

To drive home the point, he told the story of his mentor, the plaintiff’s lawyer Joe Jamail, who was 90 when he died in 2015 but still practicing. “Two weeks before, he was absolutely sentient, telling me about a deposition he had just taken where he absolutely destroyed a witness,” said Berg.

“I want to die in the courtroom,” he said.

Berg recalled first meeting Quinn in 1995 when they spent about six months in trial together in Bayside, Texas, defending Westinghouse Electric Corp. against claims it had provided a nuclear power plant there with defective steam generators that were leaking radioactive material.

It was a heavily Hispanic, largely Catholic region, he said. And during jury selection, Berg said he realized Quinn had an easy way of connecting with people when he started flipping his Notre Dame ring around for everyone to see, and then going on and on about a nun he knew in high school, Sister Theresa.

Afterwards, the pair stayed close friends through the years even though Quinn generally defended big corporations like Disney, Exxon, and Johnson & Johnson and Berg generally represents individual plaintiffs.

“There’s no bonding experience like a jury trial,” Berg said, adding, “That’s all I do.”

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